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PBS News Hour

News/Business. Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff. (2011) (CC) (Stereo)

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U.s. 20, Syria 14, Libya 14, Suarez 11, Us 11, Benghazi 10, U.n. 10, Qaddafi 9, China 7, United States 7, Tripoli 5, David Brooks 4, Damascus 4, Moammar Qaddafi 4, Britain 4, Beijing 4, Obama 3, Brooks 3, Syrians 3, France 3,
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  PBS    PBS News Hour    News/Business. Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill,  
   Judy Woodruff.  (2011)  (CC) (Stereo)  

    March 18, 2011
    6:00 - 7:00pm PDT  

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captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> brown: "cease all attacks on civilians immediately or face military consequences." president obama's warning to libyan leader moammar qaddafi today. good evening. i'm jeffrey brown. >> suarez: and i'm ray suarez. on the newshour tonight, we have on-the-ground reports from libya's capitol, tripoli, and the rebel stronghold of benghazi, and a news maker interview with u.s. ambassador to the u.n., susan rice. >> brown: then, we get the latest on the radiation containment efforts in japan as the government there raises the alert level. >> suarez: plus jeffrey kaye, in beijing, has chinese reaction to the japanese nuclear crisis.
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>> the nation is in the process of building 37 new nuclear pourpts, and is now reexamining safety. >> brown: mars and david brooks provide their weekly analysis. >> suarez: and fred de sam lazaro gets a rare look inside syria, where the government is just beginning to be challenged by protesters. >> brown: that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> okay, listen. somebody has got to get serious. >> i think... >> we need renewable energy. >> ...renewable energy is vital to our planet. >> you hear about alternatives, right? wind, solar, algae. >> i think it's going to work an a big scale. only, i think it's going to be affordable. >> so, where are they? >> it has to work in the real world. at chevron, we're investing millions in solar and biofuel technology to make it work. >> we've got to get on this now. >> right now.
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station from viewers like you. thank you. >> suarez: the u.s. and other powers made ready today to enforce a no-fly zone and other measures in libya. president obama said the world would not be deterred by moammar qaddafi's claims of a cease-fire. the president spoke in the east room of the white house this afternoon after conferring with congressional leaders. >> let me be clear-- these terms are not negotiable. these terms are not subject to negotiation. if qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences. and the resolution will be enforced through military action. >> suarez: the terms include stopping the advance to benghazi and pulling back from three other towns. the authorization for military action came thursday evening. the u.n. security council approved a no-fly zone and "all
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necessary measures" to protect libyan civilians from pro-qaddafi forces. the vote was ten to none with five abstentions, including russia, china and nato member germany. later, libya announced it was halting all military operations. but libya's ambassador to the u.s., who no longer supports qaddafi, voiced serious doubts. >> we have to be very careful. this is a trick. this man is welcoming the resolution, but at the same time, he is invading misrata, he is killing the people, he's moving his armies to strategic points. have to be very careful with this. >> suarez: the french echoed that skepticism. they and the british were taking the lead in planning the military operations against libya. >> ( translated ): mr. qaddafi has declared a cease-fire but, you know, he has made so many declarations, each one more exotic than the other, declarations in these last few
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weeks that have been increasingly frightening, so one more declaration doesn't have a lot of significance or impact. >> suarez: it was unclear when military action might begin. the british began deploying typhoon and tornado attack aircraft to the mediterranean region. and italy said it would allow its air bases to be used. the exact u.s. role remained unclear, but the president made clear it would not include ground troops. several american warships were already in the area, including an amphibious assault ship, plus 400 u.s. marines and dozens of helicopters. >> brown: images coming out of libya today illustrated the conflicting claims of what was going on inside the country. jonathan miller of independent television news reports from tripoli. >> reporter: benghazi's wild celebrations, fireworks, flares, the old tricolor flag, gunfire, cheering and chanting went on all night and into the new day. it's not deliverance, but for
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the besieged city, international protection is the next best thing. 3:00 p.m. local time, and in tripoli, a grim-faced musa kusa, former head of intelligence turned foreign minister, made a terse statement. >> ( translated ): therefore, libya has decided an immediate cease-fire... >> reporter: he called for dialogue. the resolution, he said, was a violation of libyan sovereignty, and said it was strange and unreasonable that the u.n. had sanctioned the use of military power. but it's not so strange, given persistenreports, post-cease- fire announcement, that rebel- held misratah, 130 miles east of tripoli, remains under heavy bombardment. the government denies this. we can't authenticate these pictures, but they accord with eyewitness reports. 25 killed, doctors say. so much for the immediate cease- fire. >> they're still shelling. i hope you can hear gunfire in the background.
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about an hour ago, two shells landed across the road from the medical center into the local hotel there. >> reporter: colonel qaddafi had warned that his troops would have no mercy. "the u.n. had no right to intervene," he said, branding it madness. "if the world has gone crazy," he said, "then we will go crazy, too." at 2:00 a.m. local time, two hours after the u.n. vote, angry protesters interrupted an emergency news conference at our central tripoli hotel. "britain and america have let us all down once again," they chant. these demonstrators knew exactly where to come. they've invaded the hotel in which all the foreign journalists were staying. listen, a whole bunch of demonstrators have just invaded a hotel where foreign journalists... >> guys... guys... please, guys! they saw us on tv, because this was broadcast live.
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>> reporter: so they came to the hotel that fast? >> they live here! this is the neighborhood! oh, come on now! don't do that to me! >> reporter: tripoli's pro- qaddafi mobs, who've continued today to play to the foreign press gallery, can read between the lines of the u.n. resolution. the stated objective is to stop bloodshed, but the unstated objective is pretty clear-- regime change. >> suarez: and now a view from benghazi. al jazeera reported late today that qaddafi's forces continued advancing to towns 30 miles from the city. earlier, hari sreenivasan talked by skype with james foley of the international web site global post, who was at a restaurant in benghazi. >> sreenivasan: james what the cell blation like on the streets of benghazi when they heard the news the u.n. security council had approved a no-fly zone? >> around midnight when word came out about the u.n. resolution, the square erupted
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in gunfire, later fireworks. it was by far the most firing i've heard in my several days here. >> sreenivasan: we have heard a lot about qaddafi taking over other cities. what are you hearing outside of ben fwauzy benghazi you? >> we heard there was still bomb after the cease-fire. >> sreenivasan: do people you talk to trust qaddafi's offer to create a dialogue with the opposition? >> not at all. people on the street don't believe he will keep the cease-fire. one man said we don't trust him. he only respects power.
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>> sreenivasan: james foal freglobal post reporting from benghazi via skype. >> suarez: now to our newsmaker interview with susan rice, the u.s. ambassador to the united nations. i talked with her earlier this evening from the state department. ambassador, welcome, has the new resolution come in time to save the libyan opposition? has the qaddafi army already won the battle on the ground? >> well, ray, the resolution passed yesterday by the security council was swift and very strong. and it makes clear that qaddafi must immediately cease-fire and halt any attacks on civilians. president obama this afternoon issued a very clear ultimatum, consistent with that resolution, that there must be an immediate cease-fire, immediate halt to the violence, that the march on benghazi must cease in place, and that qaddafi must pull his forces out of three key libyan towns which are now under siege.
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those steps need to happen immediately, and if they don't, the president was very clear there will be consequences swiftly and the consequences will include military action. >> suarez: as you say the president declared all attacks on civilians must stop but do you read the word "civilians" to be those who have taken up arms against the government. are they civilians or combatants? >> we're about thes the business of protecting civilians and they are civilians at extraordinary risk, 700,000 of them in the city of benghazi, and civilians have been the victims in mass radda and others where qaddafi forces continue to attack. that is the focus, that is the purpose of the council resolution passed yesterday, and that's, as the president said today what, we will be implementing. >> suarez: so what kind of military force is the united states and its partners prepared to use in libya?
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>> well, the united states acting in a broad coalition that include arab states, very importantly, key european partners, canada, and others, will take steps to implement both the broad requirement it protect civilians and to impose a no-fly zone. now, i'm not going to get into all the military means at our disposal for implementing the protection of civilians, but, obviously, it's broad, and we have many options at our disposal. >> suarez: can the resolution be read to allow attacks against leaders of the libyan government even muammar qaddafi himself? >> ray, no, i don't believe that's the purpose of the resolution. the resolution is clear, that the aim is to protect civilians, to hold those who have perpetrated atrocities, including qaddafi, accountable through legal means, including a referral to the international criminal court. and then to increase the pressure on qaddafi by friesing
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assets, banning travel, banning all flights in and out of libya by any libyan-owned aircraft, action to enforce the arms kbaerg on the high seas or on land or in the air. so it is a very strong and sweeping resolution. the aim of which is to protect civilians, to increase the pressure on qaddafi, and to hold him and others accountable. the president said very clearly again today that we stand with the libyan people in support of their aspirations for universal human rights and democracy. but this rigz and the use of force is for the purpose of protection of civilians. >> suarez: after the resolution came out, the libyan government announced it had ceased all military activities inside the country. what's the intelligence reading-- reaching the state department say? are we any wiser about what's actually going on, on the ground today? >> well, we don't believe the military action has stopped
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since that announcement. today was another day in which misurata was under attack, and hence the necessity and purpose of the president's ultimatum. >> suarez: is it the view of the united states' ambassador that there's no other way for this thing to end than with muammar qaddafi no longener charge of libya? >> the president has been very clear in the u.s. view-- indeed, in the view of most states in the world-- that any legitimacy qaddafi may have ever had to rule has long since been lost once he start these wanton attacks on his own people. and that remains u.s. policy. for the purpose of the military action as the president said today is defined and specific and that is to protect civilians and civilian-populated area. >> suarez: ambassador susan rice joining us from the state department, thanks for talking with us. >> good to be with you, ray. >> brown: still to come on the newshour: we update the other major news story of the day-- the nuclear containment battle in japan. plus contamination fears in china; shields and brooks;
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and syrian perspectives on middle east unrest. but first, the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: snipers opened fire on huge crowds of protesters in yemen today. doctors reported at least 46 people were killed. the government said it was 25. the shooting started after friday prayers in sanaa, when thousands of people gathered in a central square. they were demanding the ouster of president abdullah saleh. in response, saleh denied the snipers were his security forces, and he invoked new restrictions that give the police a freer hand. >> ( translated ): the national defense council has decided to announce a state of emergency today in yemen and impose a curfew on armed men in all cities. security forces and armed forces will take responsibilities to maintain public security. >> sreenivasan: security forces in syria attacked protesters today, and witnesses reported at least three people were killed. the worst of the violence was in the city of deraa. police also broke up protests in several other cities, including damascus. it was the most serious unrest in syria in many years.
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in saudi arabia, king abdullah announced a $90 billion package of reforms, pay raises and other benefits. it included 60,000 new jobs in the security forces, and cash for state employees and students. in a rare televised address, the king told saudis he was proud of them for largely ignoring calls to protest. but he offered no political reforms. in neighboring bahrain, bulldozers destroyed a 300-foot tall monument that had become the symbol of a month-long uprising by shiites. security forces cleared out the protesters on wednesday. the former president of haiti, jean-bertrand aristide, returned to his homeland today, ending seven years of exile in south africa. he arrived just two days before a crucial presidential election in haiti and against u.s. objections. supporters greeted him with loud cheers at the airport in port- au-prince. aristide was ousted by armed rebellion in 2004 for a second time. the haitian election council has barred his political party from taking part in sunday's vote.
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the battle over public employees in wisconsin has taken a new turn. a state judge today put a temporary hold on a law that strips state workers of most collective bargaining rights. a democratic lawsuit alleged republicans violated the state's open meetings law when the bill passed last week. a spokesman for republican governor scott walker promised an appeal of today's action. on wall street, stocks rallied after the world's richest nations announced plans to rein in the japanese yen. its record-high value makes exports more expensive and could hinder japan's recovery. the dow jones industrial average gained nearly 84 points to close at 11,858. the nasdaq rose seven points to close at 2,643. for the week, the dow lost 1.5%; the nasdaq fell more than 2.5%. nasa chalked up a first overnight, as "messenger" went into orbit around mercury after a six-year journey. as this animation shows, the satellite's engine fired to
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brake its momentum and begin an egg-shaped orbit around the planet closest to the sun. its year-long mission is to snap pictures and of mercury's cratered surface and measure the magnetic field. "messenger" is the second manmade object to visit mercury. one of the "mariner" spacecraft made a fly-by in the 1970s. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to ray. >> suarez: the people of japan marked one week today since catastrophe shattered their northeastern coast. the government acknowledged the twin disasters-- earthquake and tsunami-- were beyond anything it ever planned for. and prime minister naoto kan appealed for unity in the face of staggering loss. >> ( translated ): this is the worst crisis japan has faced, and we are now being tested. japan, in its past history, built this country with miraculous might, despite the fact that it is such a small island. we cannot let ourselves to be overcome by this quake and tsunami.
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engineers hooked up a new power cable hoping to get the cooling system back online. meanwhile, more emergency crews joined efforts to stabilize the plant. we have a report from james mats of independent television news. >> they will do the duty because somebody must go into the fukushima plant, somebody must risk radiation to ensure disaster does not become a catastrophe. the firemen who volunteered were sent off with due ceremony. their work will be dangerous, but so little is known about what's happening in fukushima no one really knows how dangerous. >> ( translated ): we expect a lot of difficulties with the mission we have been given. i think it is really a dangerous assignment. the reputation of japan and the lives many people rest on your actions." >> reporter: water is now being sprayed from high-pressure hoses towards the damaged reactors but
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with little way of know if this is being effective at cooling them. the japanese are now categorizing this as a level five incident on a scale of 7, up from level 4. the head of the world's top nuclear agency told me that doesn't necessarily mean things are still deteriorating. >> it is a dynamic event. "under control" can mean a lot of things. >> reporter: in all, the real concern about what might happen at fukushima, there is a danger of forgetting what has happened on japan's northeast coast. it is a week today since the earthquake and tsunami struck, awe chance to focus again on the many lives lost and on the hardships still being suffered. rescue work stopped and they boud their head in a minute of silence. those still living in evacuation centers did the same,
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remembering the 6,000 known to have died, the 10,000 known to be misses, and the thousands more who have not been reported missing because everyone they knew died with them. of those who survived, 285,000 are still in evacuation centers, an extraordinary number to feed, keep warm, and to re-house. taking care of them will dominate life in japan for many months to come. >> suarez: in china, japan's biggest neighbor, there is both worry and sympathy. special correspondent jeffrey kaye has been there on a reporting trip for us, and has this story from beijing. >> reporter: at many chinese grocery stores, there's been a run on salt. how much did you sell? >> ( translated ): over 100 bags. >> reporter: panicked consumers have heard rumors-- misinformation-- that iodized salt can prevent radiation poisoning.
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mrs. hou runs a small shop in south beijing. she happily sold to her customers, but was confused about the salt's purpose. what are people going to do with the salt? >> ( translated ): i'm not sure. they didn't tell me. >> reporter: these men were hoping to find salt because they worried that future supplies imported from japan might be tainted. this man said that he wanted to get sea salt now before it might get contaminated. chinese government officials have warned consumers not to panic, assuring them of plans to monitor exports of foodstuffs from japan. >> of course, to avoid panic of the people, the health department in china are mobilizing the experts to give more education of the people.
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>> reporter: chinese health minister dr. chen zhu told the newshour the government will keep a close watch on radiation levels. >> we have the chinese c.d.c. which has the monitoring system for radioactive contamination in water and food. in addition, at the level of the border inspection, the agency is also increasing the inspection of the imported food from japan. >> we would like to see the monitoring data fully disclosed. >> reporter: environmentalist ma jun, who heads a beijing non- profit group, says he wants both governments to make public the information they collect. >> we did have some experience in the past, when local
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governments tried to cover up some toxic spills and endemic diseases in sars. >> reporter: as a result of the crisis in japan, china is reassessing its own nuclear power policy. the nation is in the process of building 37 new nuclear power plants, and is now re-examining safety standards. in addition to concerns about their own welfare, some chinese have been collecting money for earthquake and tsunami victims. ♪ this evening at a beijing nightclub, the entrance fee went to raise money for the red cross of japan. besides private relief efforts, the chinese government has sent rescue workers and humanitarian assistance. the aid from china has been hailed as somewhat of a breakthrough in relations between neighboring countries that historically have had a
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antagonistic relationship. >> brown: and that brings us to the analysis of shields and brooks-- syndicated columnist mark shields and "new york times" columnist david brooks. welcome. let's start with libya, david. you heard the president earlier. we heard ambassador rice. is the u.s. stance now clear? is it right? >> i think it's right but it's certainly not clear. >> brown: still not clear. >> i don't think we can stand by and allow a humanitarian disaster, especially when there was this tide of democratization sweeping across the middle east. having said that and having really-- i'm glad the president announced what he did-- i still have very great trepidations and questions. you'd like to think the policy was widely accept in the u.s. government but secretary gates ask many others have been expressing concerns for weeks.
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were those concerns real, overruled? >> brown: apparently quite serious. >> yes, yes. and does the country really know what it's getting into and finally does the government know what it's getting into? if qaddafi continues with the bombing, what's our next step? what's our goal? i'm glad he's taking the step i don't know how thought through it is yet. >> i got the president's presentation today about why they had not acted observer and what the united states had been involved in. i thought it was coherent and it certainly stood in stark contrast to the united states invasion and occupation of iraq, i mean, that there was military action of any kind was obviously the last, rather than the first and preferred option. and i thought that he made the case that individuals had their sanctions, the u.n. sanctions, the kbaerg, the humanitarian aid
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the aid to refugees-- all of things we had done and the united states did not want to get out in front so it was important that lebanon be the sponsor of the u.n. resolution. i don't think the case for action itself in answer to your question is strong in the country. there is great resistance to united states involvement. general maddus, the sen-com commander was very blunt that this is an act of war, an act of combat when he was asked about it on capitol hill. war involves carbuts, and what happens when there are casualties? i'm not sure what the next step is. >> brown: you mentioned iraq and this is a president who came in and he iraq on his plate, he had afghanistan on his plate. here it is, we watch him today, does it feel like a momentous move of some kind and do you feel a coherent strategy in the thinking about moving towards war? >> i really don't feel it's as
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momentous as it should be. i don't feel a big speech to the american people has been made. there's so much going on. he's leaving the country--. >> brown: going on a trip to south america. >> right. i don't think the predicate has been explained, even to the people doing the combat. that's one of the reasons i have concern. having said that, i think there is a possibility for a strategy to say we're in this historic moment, qaddafi is this sort of leader, we have a national interest in seeing this through. but that would mean spelling things out a lot more than they have been spelled out. >> brown: what do you think about that? there have been days of wondering and watching and behind the scenes there was a big debate. is there a coherent way of getting at a strategy now? >> well, behind the scenes there was a big debate and a lot of things happening that were-- it became obvious as the week went on. i think that right now, the united states is in the position of the are the said right at the
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outset today, we spoke about hope and i think he was making reference to the dashed hope that the revolutionaries and rebels in libya would prevail and oppose qaddafi. but this-- this is a situation we have no idea what the end game is going to be. but i think the possibility, jeff reerk of standing by while there was a humanitarian disast they're he was threatening, qaddafi was threatening, of the dimensions, relatively speaking, rwanda were unacceptable, not simply to the united states but to the international community. i do not think there is a coherent strategy for where we go. what is the end? what is victory? what's the exit strategy? how do we know it's over? a new government there--. >> suarez: you heard ray talk to ambassador rice when he asked is it civilians or what about the people fighting against qaddafi? where is the distinction there? >> another thing that's disconcerting i think most in of
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the foreign policy issues we've talked about for decades, the u.s. has been the lead player in the west or developed world. we've sort of been one leading, our decisions are sort of been the leading decision. here we're clearly not the lead player. it's u.k. and france and other people and we're following along on the caboose, so it's disconcerting in the sense we feel like the u.k. often feels as the secondary player. and so the question is how much is the president really supporting this, and how much is he being dragged along. >> i do think-- i do think the united states, for good reason, was not out front on this. and, you know, to listen to the president today, he made the case that of all the things we then doing behind the scenes. but there's no question, france was pushing the hardest, and joined by great britain. >> brown: japan, the other huge story unfolding here. let me start with you, mark. has this put the nuclear power
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issue here back on the table, the debate? >> i mean, nuclear power, which had emerged in time of a new energy plan and crisis as a viable option is a lot less viable today than it was two weeks ago. there's no question. a gallup/"usa today" poll shows 70% of americans are more concerned than they were before the japanese disaster and tragedy. i don't think there's any question. we've never really confronted nuclear power in this country. the yucca flat repository for nuclear waste has become a political football. nevada politician of any stripe runs against it. and the administration in fact had repealed the decision to go in there. i would say right now, when you've got china and germany reexamining and taking long,
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hard look. there's always been a latent opposition to nuclear energy in this country. i think it's activated right now. i'll say this-- this is not a republican or tea party member to stand up to this. what we need are fewer safety inspectors and fewer food inspectors of fish coming in from japan. i don't think that will be a popular theme. >> nuclear power has been a significant energy source for us for decades. it's been a safe energy source. so i'm glad that a lot of the people, including the president, has said it's part of the menu and they continue to say that. i think they're right to say that. i know to think the primary driver of whether nuclear spreads or not is the cost. with the huge upfront cost, the new finds of natural gas, the low cost of natural gas and other fossil fuel, nuclear power will not spread economically let alone for any other reason. this has clearly set it pack but to be honest i'm not sure it was going to be a growing source of
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energy for us. >> brown: what about the larger-- a calamity of this nature, and the "post" put it in the "black swan" event. beyond the imagination but clearly within the realm of possibility. how do governments react, prepare for it, how do societies deal with it. >> the black swan is the thing that's very rare, but tallub's point in anticipating the financial crisis, there are so many potentially rare events, one of them is bound to happen. >> brown: and here is one. >> i guess the thing i'm struck by is it the response, the japanese response against the american response, the different political styles. and key complain in this country that we have such a polarized style in politics and a sick politics and i agree with that a lot of time but it does mean we have reasonably free information flows in n our politics and it's been interesting to watch the
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japanese government respond in one way and our government respond in a different way. but they have had less free information flows and our narrative interest our government has probably been a little more accurate from what i can see. >> i think our government for one thing has put pressure on the japanese to be, quite frankly, more forth coming. we are messy. and we-- we are noisy in our system, but in the final analysis we're a lot more candid and a lot more transparent, even with our too much secrecy that we do have. and i-- i do think that this is a greater caution-- chernobyl you kind of expected it. i mean, the soviet sufficiency not functioning. it was shoddy. they cut corners. the japanese don't-- are not known for cutting cornerers. they took the safety route. and so i think that's why it's so much more sobering and alarming to see this could happen in a country with their
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reinforced zoning construction rules. this-- i think that really sets a greater case of awareness and anxiety this this i didn't. >> we get very anxious over, obviously, a story like this, which seems to have some potentially catastrophic downside but it is worth remembering that thousands of people die every year from sulfur dioxide, some of the air pollutants that come out of coal and other sources, and we've acclimated to it and overplay things that are potentially spectacular. >> brown: we only have about 30 seconds here, but in the meantime, all the stuff we thought we'd be focusing on, like the budget, go on. >> they do go on and it's a millionave way to run a railroad. >> brown: a continuing resolution every few weeks. >> it may go out, or if it isn't we'll go another two weeks. really, it's a bad, bad message to accepted, not only to the
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world community but to the united states economy, i think. >> brown: it's swamped by other news. >> i don't think we'll have a shut down. i think both parties realize they'll be hurt more by a shutdown than not. >> too rational. >> brown: mark shields, david brooks-- the rational david brooks. thank you very much. >> we'll be back shortly with a report from inside >> suarez: we'll be back shortly with a report from inside syria by fred de sam lazaro.
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>> suarez: finally tonight, a rare look inside syria, an arab country where the street protests are just beginning. we have a report from special correspondent fred de sam lazaro, one of the few american journalists admitted into syria recently. >> reporter: the people of syria's crowded capital, damascus, face many of the same ills that have triggered street protests in so many other cities in the arab world-- high unemployment, widespread corruption, and authoritarian one-party rule. yet unlike egypt's hosni mubarak or libya's moammar qaddafi, syria's bashar al assad has faced minor and scattered demonstrations. but the situation is fluid and possibly escalating. scenes from youtube claimed to show protests across the
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country, including deraa, where there were deadly clashes. assad, who took power 11 years ago after the death of his father, has taken recent steps to put more money into people's pockets, and pledged to loosen some of the tight restrictions that have marked his government's rule. subsidies on several food staples were increased, something well received by this shopper in a damascus market >> ( translated ): everything is cheap-- cooking oil, rice, sugar. they're all cheap this time of year. >> reporter: she praises the government of the 45-year-old assad. an ophthalmologist trained in britain, he promised to modernize a centralized, soviet- style economy. consumer and luxury goods were allowed in, and syrians living abroad were invited to return. dr. haina shaaban is a key presidential adviser. >> president bashar did do many important steps internally, and
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more important than what he did, he is responsive and the government is responsive to people. >> reporter: syria has also taken steps to reform media regulations, including access to the internet and social media. the government recently lifted a ban on popular social web sites, like facebook and youtube. many people got around these restrictions anyway, but now, they can get on these sites directly. the key unanswered question is whether this is a political opening up, or a clampdown to monitor these web sites. veteran journalist yahya alous is skeptical about the changes governing media. he founded an on-line magazine on women's issues in 2005, which has been forthright in tackling controversial social issues. >> ( translated ): covered women
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are also subjected to harassment. >> reporter: alous says the government mostly turned a blind eye to their work. but a new rule took effect a week ago requiring all such sites to be officially registered. >> ( translated ): the claim is that it will organize the internet and protect the rights of individuals from slander and cyber-bullying, and prevent false data being published. but the truth is this is an attempt to control it. this law could result in the imprisonment of some journalists, and that's a serious challenge. >> reporter: alous speaks from experience. he spent two years in prison earlier this decade for writing that angered the government. since then, he acknowledges journalists have been given more freedoms. >> ( translated ): five or six years ago, we were not able to discuss issues like honor killings or domestic violence in depth. six years ago, we were not able to discuss corruption or senior government officials. >> reporter: are you concerned about talking to us, as a foreign news crew?
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>> ( translated ): i think i would be lying if i were to tell you that i have no concerns talking to you. i'm aware of where the red lines are and where they aren't. even government authorities openly discuss the issues that i'm talking to you about. >> reporter: the u.s. ambassador here doesn't think the changes go far enough. he says syrians share the same aspirations as egyptians, tunisians, or libyans. >> they want to be treated in a dignified manner, in an appropriate manner by their government. that includes to not be put in jail, torture. the demand for political opening, the demand for economic opportunity. those are the things which are driving the region, and syria, i do not think, is immune from that. >> reporter: robert ford took his position in january, the first u.s. ambassador here in six years.
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he says his appointment was an effort to take a chill out of u.s.-syria relations. in 2005, the bush administration moved to isolate syria for its close ties to iran and militant groups allied with it. that policy has not changed. >> we have a very tough sanctions regime in place, preventing american companies from doing almost any business in syria. we do this as a means of helping the syrians understand that it is in their interest to stop supporting terrorist groups like hezbollah or palestinian hamas. >> reporter: that resistance to u.s. pressure may well have strengthened the assad government, says talal al atrach, a journalist and author. >> let me tell you something-- the united states helped a lot to boost the image of the regime and its president, because of its wars in afghanistan, then in iraq, and then its unlimited support for israel.
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>> reporter: he says syrians strongly support hamas and hezbollah, both viewed as resistance forces against israel, which occupied, then annexed the golan heights, captured from syria during the 1967 war. add to that, atrach says, a deeply unpopular iraq war and u.s. sanctions brought assad support his departed counterparts in egypt or tunisia did not share. >> the difference with other arab regimes is that the credit that bashar assad got during the last six to seven years are going to give him more time to implement the reforms. >> reporter: many analysts worry about a growing gap between rich and poor. unemployment is officially put at 11%, but hard to measure since many syrians work in the informal economy. add to them waves of new entrants to the labor market-- 250,000 every year and growing in this country of 22 million. for their part, government
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officials say they're committed to addressing the challenges and complaints. >> the people on the street are voicing their ideas. i mean, all the issues are on the table. we are not defending anything that is wrong, or that is unsustainable, and everything is open to question. >> reporter: back in a damascus market, one thing became clear-- people don't talk openly with foreign journalists, who aren't commonly allowed in the country. we were accompanied by a government minder for all outdoor shooting, although we were free to choose anyone to interview. we tried to ask this 18-year-old fruit vendor about the unrest in other arab countries, but his father quickly intervened. >> ( translated ): that's not our job. our job is selling fruit and vegetables. >> reporter: most of the analysts we spoke with, until this week, said they did not expect syria to erupt in street protests. but they were quick to add that
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events are unfolding in ways no one can predict. >> suarez: fred's reporting is a partnership with the "under-told stories" project at saint mary's university in minnesota. >> brown: again, the major developments of the day: the u.s., britain and france made ready to enforce a no-fly zone and other measures in libya. moammar qaddafi's regime announced a cease-fire, but rebels said the fighting continued. president obama warned qaddafi to halt all attacks on civilians or face military action. snipers in yemen opened fire on protesters, killing as many as 46. the government denied responsibility. and engineers at a stricken nuclear plant in japan hooked up a new power cable, hoping to restore the cooling system. and to hari sreenivasan for what's on the newshour online. hari. >> sreenivasan: we have more with shields and brooks on "the rundown" blog. and as the world watches events unfold in japan, we talked to science correspondent miles o'brien about how u.s. nuclear energy companies prepare
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for disasters. plus on "art beat," jeff talks to author teju cole about his new novel, "open city." all that and more is on our web site, newshour.pbs.org. >> suarez: and again to our honor roll of american service personnel killed in the iraq and afghanistan conflicts. we add them as their deaths are made official and photographs become available. here, in silence, are eight more.
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>> brown: that last photograph was first lieutenant daren hidalgo. when we reported his death last month, we mistakenly gave his branch of service as the united states marine corps. he served in the u.s. army. we regret the error. >> suarez: and that's the newshour for tonight. on monday, we'll look at the latest on the damaged japanese nuclear reactors and safety concerns here in the u.s. i'm ray suarez. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. "washington week" can be seen later this evening on most pbs stations. we'll see you online, and again here monday evening. have a nice weekend. thank you and good night.
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